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Debunking Some Myths About NY's Ballot Questions

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There’s some misinformation on social media regarding a key ballot item in next month’s elections on whether New York will hold a Constitutional Convention. 

New Yorkers have a choice of voting “yes” or “no” on three proposition questions on the November ballot.

A posting that has gone viral on social media is spreading some misinformation to voters. It warns against what it says is a “sneaky and underhanded” rule regarding the question on Proposition One – whether New York should hold a Constitutional Convention.

“Please be aware”, the post begins, that “if you leave the question blank, it's an automatic ‘yes’, so please vote ‘no’”.

A spokesman for the state Board of Elections, John Conklin, says that is absolutely not true.

“Only a ‘yes’ vote is a ‘yes’ vote,” said Conklin.

Conklin says the Board of Elections has received a number of questions about the issue, and he’s even devised a standard email to explain the rules, which are set in state statute. He says if voters choose not to weigh in on the question, or don’t see the question, then the lack of response is not counted for either side.

“If you leave it blank, it’s a blank vote,” Conklin said. "In 1997, the last time this question was on the ballot, the 'blank' position had more votes than any other position. So if they were added to 'yes' votes, it would have passed. It did not." 

The social media post goes on to warn that public employees like teachers, police officers and firefighters “stand to lose a great deal” if the convention were to happen.

On Facebook, the post then links to a blog that posts news about unions and other topics, affiliated with the group Union Communications Consulting Services. The blog post itself does not repeat the falsehood that if the Constitutional Convention ballot question is left blank it counts as a “yes”. It instead lists several reasons for voting against the measure. The group’s Chris LaGrange says they did not start the rumor, and unfortunately have no control over Facebook users who choose to link the false information to the blog post.

There are two other ballot propositions in next month’s elections. One would allow a judge to revoke the pensions of elected officials who are convicted of felonies. Another would ease rules for road repair work in the Adirondack and Catskill forest preserves.

But there’s more false information making the social media rounds regarding those ballot questions as well. And that is - if voters do not answer the three proposition questions listed on one side of the ballot, then the digital scanner will not register the ballot at all. Conklin says that is also not true.

“That’s called an 'under vote',” said Conklin. “If you leave any office blank, it will accept it." 

Conklin says the scanner will reject a ballot that includes an “over vote”, where the voter chooses more than one candidate for an office or gives multiple answers to a ballot question. The machine then gives the voter a chance to correct their mistake and resubmit the ballot.

“If you under vote it will accept it, because that is viewed as being an intentional choice by the voters,” he said.

Conklin says the Board of Elections is trying to minimize the number of people who miss the ballot questions altogether. Every polling place must display instructions that say this year, there are two sides to each ballot. But he says, voters can choose, without any consequences, whether to fill them both out. 

Karen DeWitt is Capitol Bureau chief for New York State Public Radio, a network of public radio stations in New York state. She has covered state government and politics for the network since 1990.
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